…………let me first explain why I use the word God, when I could just as easily use the words Jehovah, Allah, Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu or Zeus. Alternatively I could call God “That,” which is how the ancient Sanskrit scriptures say it, and which I think comes close to the all-inclusive and unspeakable entity I have sometimes experienced. But that “That” feels impersonal to me - a thing, not a being – and I myself cannot pray to a That. I need a proper name, in order to fully sense a personal attendance. For this same reason, when I pray, I do not address my prayers to The Universe, The Great Void, The Force, The Supreme Self, The Whole, The Creator, The Light, The Higher Power, or even the most poetic manifestation of God’s name, taken, I believe, from the Gnostic gospels: “The Shadow of the Turning”
I have nothing against any of these terms. I feel they are all equal because they are all equally adequate and inadequate descriptions of the indescribable. But we each do need a functional name for this indescribability, and “God” is the name that feels the most warm to me, so that’s what I use.
Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky, but instead abides very close to us indeed – much closer than we can imagine, breathing right through our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the center of that heart, and who has then returned to the world with a report for the rest of us that God is an experience of supreme love. In every religious tradition on earth, there have always been mystical saints and transcendents who report exactly this experience. Unfortunately, many of them have ended up arrested and killed. Still, I think very highly of them.
Depression and Loneliness track me down after about ten days in Italy. I am walking through the Villa Borghese one evening after a happy day spent in school, and the sun is setting gold over St Peter’s Basilica. I am feeling contented in this romantic scene, even if I am all by myself, while everyone else in the park is either fondling a lover or playing with a laughing child. But I stop to lean against a balustrade and watch the sunset and I get to thinking a little too much, and then my thinking turns to brooding, and that’s when they catch up with me.
They come upon me all silent and menacing like Pinkerton Detectives, and they flank me – Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show me their badges. I know these guys very well. We’ve been playing a cat-and-mouse game for years now. Though I admit that I am surprised to meet them in this elegant Italian garden at dusk. This is no place they belong.
I say to them, “How did you find me here? Who told you that I had come to Rome?”
Depression, always the wise guy, says, “What – you’re not happy to see us?”
“Go away,” I tell him.
Loneliness, the more sensitive cop, says, “I’m sorry, ma’am. But I might have to tail you the whole time you’re travelling. It’s my assignment.”
“I’d really rather you didn’t,” I tell him, and he shrugs almost apologetically, but only move closer.
Then they frisk me. They empty my pockets of any joy I had been carrying there. Depression even confiscates my identity: but he always does that. Then Loneliness starts interrogating me, which I dread because it always goes on for hours. He’s polite but relentless, and he always trips me up eventually. He asks if I have any rason to be happy that I know of. He asks why I am all by myself tonight, yet again. He asks (though we’ve already been through this line of questioning hundreds of times already) why I can't keep a relationship going, why I ruined my marriage, why I messed things up with David, why I messed things up with every man I’ve ever been with. He asks me where I was the night I turned thirty, and why things have gone so sour since then. He asks me why I can't get my act together, and why I’m not at home living in a nice house and raising nice children like any respectable woman my age should be. He asks why, exactly, I think I deserve a vacation in Rome when I’ve made such a rubble of my life. He asks me why I think that running away to Italy like a college kid will make me happy. He asks me where I think I’ll end up in my old age, if I keep living this way.
I walk back home, hoping to shake them, but they keep following me, these two goons.
Depression has a firm hand on my shoulder and Loneliness harangues me with his interrogation. I don’t even bother eating dinner; I don’t want them watching me. I don’t want to let them up the stairs to my apartment, either, but I know Depression, and he’s got a billy club, so there’s no stopping him from coming in if he decides that he wants to.
“It’s not fair for you to come here,” I tell Depression, “I paid you off already. I served my time back in New York.”
But he just gives me that dark smile, settles into my favorite chair, puts his feet on my table and lights a cigar, filling the place with his awful smoke. Loneliness watches and sighs, then climbs into my bed and pulls the covers over himself, fully dressed, shoes and all. He’s going to make me sleep with him again tonight, I just know it.
I stopped eating meat (for a short time, anyway) after someone told me that I was “eating the fear of the animal at the moment of its death.”
Luca has traveled a fair amount, though he claims he could never live anywhere but in Rome, near his mother, since he is an Italian man, after all – what can he say? But its not just his mamma who keeps him around. He’s in his early thirties, and has had the same girlfriend since he was a teenager (the lovely Giuliana, whom Luca describes fondly and aptly as acqua e sapone – “soap and water” in her sweet innocence). All his friends are the same friends he’s had since childhood, and all from the same neighbourhood. They watch the soccer matches together every Sunday – either at the stadium or in a bar (if the Roman teams are playing away) – and then they all return separately to the homes where they grew up, in order to eat the big Sunday afternoon meals cooked by their respective mothers and grandmothers.
I wouldn’t move from Rome, either, if I were Luca Spaghetti.
There was an old man sitting behind me, stringing together such a gorgeous flower-chain of curses as he screamed down at the players on the field (playing soccer)………
………..Then shut my eyes and listen to some more of the old man’s rant, which went something like:
Dai, dai, dai, Albertini, dai…va bene, va bene, ragazzo mio, perfetto, bravo, bravo…Dai! Dai! Via! Via! Nella porta! Eccola, eccola, eccola, mio bravo ragazzo, caro mio, eccola, eccola, ecco-AAAHHHHHHHHH!!! VAFFANCULO!!! FIGLIO DI MIGNOTTA!! STRONZO! CAFONE! TRADITORE! Madonna...Ah, Dio mio, perche, perche, perche, questo e stupido, e una vergogna, la vergogna.
...Che casino, che bordello....NON HAI UN CUORE, ALBERTINI! FAI FINTA ! Guarda, non e successo niente…Dai, dai, ah…Molto migliore, Albertini, molto migliore, si si si, eccola, bello, bravo, anima mia, ah, ottimo, eccola adesso….nella porta, nella porta, nell-VAFFANCULO !!!!!!!
Which i attempt to translate as:
Come on, come on, come on, Albertini, come on…OK, OK, my boy, perfect, brilliant, brilliant…Come on! Come on! Go! Go! In the goal! There it is, there it is, there it is, my brilliant boy, my dear, there it is, there it is, there – AHHHH! GO FUCK YOURSELF! YOU SON OF A BITCH! SHITHEAD! ASSHOLE! TRAITOR!...Mother of God…Oh my God, why, why, why, this is stupid, this is shameful, the shame of it…What a mess…[Author’s note: Unfortunately there’s no good way to translate into English the fabulous Italian expressions che casino and che bordello, which literally mean “what a casino” and “what a whorehouse,” but essentially mean “what a friggin’ mess.”]…YOU DON’T HAVE A HEART, ALBERTINI!!!! YOU’R A FAKER! Look, nothing happened…Come on, come on, hey, yes…Much better, Albertini, much better, yes yes yes, there it is, beautiful, brilliant, oh, excellent, there it is now…in the goal, in the goal, in the-FUUUUUCK YOUUUUUUU!!!
Oh, it was such an exquisite and lucky moment in my life to be sitting right in front of this man. I loved every word our of his mouth. I wanted to lean my head back into his old lap and let him pour his eloquent curses into my ears forever. And it wasn’t just him! The entire stadium would rise to its feet, every man waving his arms in outrage and cursing, as if all 20,000 of them had just been in a traffic altercation.
…..”Desire is the design flaw”. The Yogis, however, say that human discontentment is a simple case of mistaken identity. We’re miserable because we thinkn that we are mere individuals, alone with our fears and flaws and resentments and mortality. We wrongly believe that our limited little egos constitute our whole entire nature. We have failed to recognize our deeper divine character. We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme Self who is eternally at peace. That supreme Self is our true identity, universal and divine. Before you realize this truth, say the Yogis, you will always be in despair, a notion nicely expressed in this exasperated line from the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus: “You bear God within you, poor wretch, and know it not.”
Yoga is the effort to experience one’s divinity personally and then hold on to that experience forever. Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you may seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise. Only from that point of even-mindedness will the true nature of the world (and yourself) be revealed to u. True Yogis, from their seat of equipoise, see all this world as an equal manifestation of God’s creative energy – men, women, children, turnips, bedbugs, coral: it’s all God in disguise. But the Yogis believe a human life is a very special opportunity, because only in a human form and only with a human mind can God-realization ever occur…….
“Our whole business therefore in this life,” wrote Saint Augustine, rather Yogically, ”is to restore to health the eyes of the heart whereby God may be seen.”
Look for God, suggests my Guru. Look for God like a man with his head on fire looks for water.
………Hafiz, who said that he and God had become like two fat men living in a small boat – “we keep bumping into each other and laughing”………
……As one line from the Upanishads suggests: “People follow different paths, straight or crooked, according to their temperament, depending on which they consider best, or most appropriate – and all reach You, just as rivers enter the ocean.”
To feel physically comfortable with someone else’s body is not a decision you can make……………My friend Annie says it all comes down to one simple question: “Do you want your belly pressed against this person’s belly forever – or not?”
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